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24 September 2014

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You are in: Suffolk > Nature > Coast > > Point 2 - The Lighthouse

Southwold lighthouse

Southwold lighthouse

Point 2 - The Lighthouse

Southwold lighthouse stands midway between Lowestoft and Orford. Trinity House needed to replace the ‘Low Light’ on the beach at Orfordness which had just been destroyed by storms for the fifth time.

The plot chosen for the lighthouse was described in the press as ‘very advantageous… the smoke from the town will not obscure the light and its nearness to the cliff must make it very prominent all along the coast.’

Victorian ingenuity

Construction on it began in 1886 and it took three years to complete the lighthouse. It’s a wonderful piece of classical Victorian engineering.

It took 1,500,000 half bricks to construct and these were brought to the site via Halesworth on the Southwold railway. The local coal merchant, Thomas Moy & Co, then brought them to the cliff top in his fleet of 15 horse-drawn wagons.

The lighthouse stands at 101 ft, making it 120 ft from sea level to the focus of the light. The lantern is reached via two winding staircases and 113 steps.

Southwold Lighthouse

Southwold Lighthouse

The lantern, formerly used at Happisborough Low Light, was built in 1886 and through a series of very complicated optics and prisms it was able to magnify what, in those days, was a fairly low-powered oil lamp.

The lantern weighed eight tons and it arrived from Harwich in two sections and was again transported by horse and cart. Then came the job of raising it to the top of the tower - no mean feat!

On the very top of the lighthouse is a large weather vane. In the old days when the dome was painted a careful watch had to be kept on the wind and the weather vane to ensure it didn’t swing suddenly and dislodge anyone from the top of the tower!

Fire up above

The light was inaugurated by Trinity House on 3rd September 1890, but only six days later there was fire in the lantern which destroyed the burner. This was due to the inexperience of the keepers! After additional training they were able to manage the intricacies of the six wick Argand oil burner.

Southwold Lighthouse spiral staircase

Southwold Lighthouse spiral staircase

The lighthouse keepers

The lighthouse was never used as living quarters for the lighthouse keepers. Trinity House built two cottages at the back of the lighthouse where the keepers used to live.

The keepers would spend their nights in what’s called the service room, just below the lantern to make sure that everything was working efficiently. The wick was trimmed to the correct height to ensure the best possible light and the oil supply was monitored. The oil was contained in three lead lined tanks below the tower base and was pumped up to the burner.

In 1938 the lighthouse was electrified and there was no need for a full time keeper and the lighthouse was de-manned.


War time use

During WW 2 the lighthouse was used by the military for spotting enemy aircraft. It was lit for convoy purposes under instruction from the Admiralty.

Southwold Lighthouse

Southwold Lighthouse

Current technology

In 2001 the lighthouse was converted to battery operation. Mains electricity is used to charge the batteries and provide heat and light. Three 12 volt, 90 watt halogen lamps are used for the light.

Two red sectors mark shoals to the north and Sizewell Bank to the south. The main navigation light is white and has a range of 17 nautical miles, the red light 15 sea miles. The white and red group flash four times every 20 seconds.

For fishermen and mariners returning from long, cold nights at sea the sight of this light and the white outline of the Southwold Lighthouse itself must have been very welcome. Home is the sailor, home from the sea.

Continue on your walk past St James’s Green on the right, once the site of the coastguard station. The guns you can see here were recovered from merchant vessels which had foundered in Sole Bay. Take the snicket past the delightfully named Shrimp Cottage (pink, of course) to the Sailor’s Reading Room.

last updated: 22/04/2008 at 10:51
created: 05/07/2005

Have Your Say

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I've been going to Southwold fifty years. There have been changes but I still love the place

I love southwold i dont mind if the weather is rubbish i just love the atmosohere and going crabing down at the harbour great place and want to hopefuly buy a house there

it is a shame that the lighthouse gets damages so many times. i have been there many times, and i can't think of one bad memory!

Tom Vale
life, and also my hoem

I love Southwold. Forget the weather. Its a great place. I have been every year at least once since i was born. I remember the days when Ronnie and Marie ran 1 St James Green. We know all the landlords in the area and get updates on town gossip.

The Swan was one of my mother's favourite Pubs, I stayed there with her in the 60s on a couple of occassions. About 5 years ago my wife and I wanted a weekend away, so booked into the Swan for a weekend break. We had to phone through that we would be late due to accident on M25, and asked if a cold supper could be put up for us as we wouldn't get there until about 10. Delighted when we were told kitchen would stay open for us as we must be very tired after 4 hour hold up. When show to our room, the floor boards creaked as they had 40 years before A WONDERFUL PLACE FOR A WEEKEND BREAK

I was lucky - this summer I had the chance to abseil down Southwold lighthouse, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I now have an extra-special attachment to the lighthouse there.

I love Southwold, having visited three times previously my fourth visit is in two weeks time - and I plan to try the walk then. Looking forward to it already!

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